Saturday, May 31, 2008

Independent Media in Kenya

Fred Orek, a cameraman and assistant editor with the Kenyan video collective Slum-TV, works on a shoot in October 2007.
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Kenya’s Indy Media By Michelle Chen
While news reports across the world have displayed images of chaos shaking Kenya, an alternative media system driven by ordinary Kenyans is emerging in the East African country to help raise the voices of the seldom heard. The violent aftermath of President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed election in December has detonated Kenya’s festering ethnic, land and power struggles, leaving hundreds dead and displacing hundreds of thousands. But it has also energized the country’s independent media-makers, many of whom see their work as key to overcoming the crisis.

Fusing mass communication with political organizing, the Kenya Independent Media Center (IMC) has aired local activists’ perspectives on the violence and its root causes. Through its growing network of independent reporters, IMC Kenya aims to generate “information for action,” according to co-founder John Bwakali.

The organization also tries to lead by example through its non-hierarchical structure as a collective—a potential model of radical self-empowerment in a society besieged by political disillusionment.

In an IMC audio piece, Jimani, a young activist with the Warriors, a Nairobi-based self-help group, reflects on the desperation that has pushed many of Kenya’s youth into violent clashes.

“Why has a youth gone out to fight, ready to die?” he asks on a recording produced shortly after the elections. “Is it freedom for those who are oppressed in this world? Maybe you can say so.” But he continues: “As a [young] man is ready to go out there and die because he wants his voice to be heard, we need to give them that chance. We need to hear what they have to say to us.”

Some youth are amplifying their voices through a video collective called Slum-TV, led by Kenya-based media activists. By documenting everyday struggles in Mathare—a densely populated slum in the capital Nairobi—the project enables young people to produce homegrown media and, through local public screenings, fosters community dialogue. Following the outbreak of the post-election violence, Slum-TV has focused on current recovery efforts that bring together activists from different ethnic groups.

Slum-TV co-founder Sam Hopkins noted the contrast with corporate media’s coverage of “tribal” violence. “The idea behind focusing on characters who have crossed the ethnic divide is really just to provide another version of what’s happening, to counteract the mainstream international media,” he says.

As an ear to the ground in their communities, grassroots media activists have sometimes been ahead of the news.

Patrick Shomba and fellow artists, who founded the Ghetto Film Club media collective in 2006, foreshadowed the approaching unrest in a screenplay titled “The Ghetto President.” The film, created last year as a civic-education project, explored issues of corruption, voting rights, youth rights and ethnic conflict. After scraping together volunteer help and borrowed equipment, the group completed the film a few days before the election and held a public screening in a Nairobi slum. Their next film, they hope, will be about reconciliation.

Since cities like Nairobi are ethnically diverse, Shomba views street-level art as a way to “maintain the peace here in the urban sector, with a mix of culture and a mix of tribes.”

Local youth lead the project as actors and producers—a rare opportunity for them to overcome marginalization. The group aims to eventually turn media work into a sustainable income source for young people wrestling with poverty, crime and lack of schooling in their communities.

In the post-election turmoil, Shomba is also working with Kenya’s budding community radio scene to air local news, as well as anti-violence messages, on three small urban stations, with an estimated reach of more than 2 million listeners.

“What our guys can do at the grassroots,” he says, “the mainstream media can’t come and do.”

Though still in its infancy, grassroots reporting is gaining traction in Kenya. Since 2007, the Web-based Voices of Africa project, an initiative of the Africa Interactive Media Foundation, has delivered field reporting from mobile-phone-based correspondents in Kenya. Its coverage features video commentary from everyday people on politics, underlying social problems and concerns about the ongoing mediation talks.

Although Kenya’s independent media-makers generally do not face outright authoritarian restraints, more insidious barriers can impinge on their work.

IMC Kenya reporter Oscar Odhiambo recently fled Kenya temporarily for Tanzania, in part, he says, because he felt that as an independent journalist, he risked being targeted by violent factions for speaking out. Meanwhile, he says, Kenya’s establishment press has failed to hold powerful officials and business elites accountable because it is hampered by corporate control.

“The media as an institution must be set free,” he says, “so that we as independent journalists can also use that freedom to express an autonomous view of what we believe is true.”

Yet one of the most immediate challenges facing independent media activists is simply logistics. Reflecting the global “digital divide” between North and South, Kenya’s online infrastructure is threadbare. Internet users make up less than 10 percent of Kenya’s population, according to international estimates; both media producers and consumers typically lack consistent access. In response, media-makers are repurposing old-school technologies to reach new audiences.

While IMC Kenya runs a website, co-founder Bwakali acknowledged that its digital material is out of reach for most Kenyans. The key is to capitalize on “good old traditional distribution networks,” he says—cassette tapes and compact discs, distributed hand to hand. The group also plans to work with mini-bus operators to air IMC recordings on their daily routes.

For Slum-TV, just the shared experience of a public audience has deep social resonance. “To see the reaction of a crowd when we have a screening is really incredible,” says Hopkins. In Mathare, where hundreds of thousands struggle with poverty and political disenfranchisement, “the potential to affect people’s aspirations is huge.”

Meanwhile, among the small community of wired Kenyans, blogs channel information, outrage and hope.

In January, the blog Kenyan Pundit ran a self-penned “obituary” by writer Simiyu Barasa. “I know not my tribe,” he wrote. “I have only known myself as Kenyan, and others as fellow Kenyans. In these times, belonging or not belonging [to a tribe] means not being dead or being seriously dead. What chances does a person like me have?”

While fostering political discussion, Kenya’s blogosphere has also taken a proactive role in coping with the crisis. The Web-based mapping project tracks citizen-reported violent incidents, along with local peace-building efforts, across the country.

Nairobi-based political cartoonist and blogger Patrick Gathara distills pointed dissent into scathing images and commentary. One of his recently posted comics shows Kibaki playing the fiddle and singing as the city behind him blazes in flames.

To help raise consciousness through art, Gathara has worked with the Association of East African Cartoonists (KATUNI) to launch a political cartoon competition, which is themed around the current conflicts and ideas for solutions.

“Involving the Kenyan people in the debate over the future of their country and giving them nonviolent avenues of expression,” he says, “is the way out of the current crisis.”

As activists look to recast the country’s political landscape, IMC Kenya co-founder Bwakali says free media is a critical tool for opening dialogue: “You are telling each and every person that your voice matters, that your opinion can play a key role toward making a difference.” --Slum-TV

Friday, May 30, 2008

Report from the Transmission Asia-Pacific Meeting--West Java, Indonesia, May19-25

Transmission is a meeting of free and open source software (FOSS) developers and video activists. The week was filled with talk on open source content management systems for web (like plone, plumi, plone4artists, show in a box, drupal, joomla,, video compression, creative commons -- well, you get the picture.There are videos and more information about the gathering at the Plumi site.

For a non-computer geek like me, it was important to see what free and open source softwares can offer in terms of flexibility and security. That open source softwares is a logical alternative because it runs well even on the crap computers in developing countries like the Philippines. And to speak little of the politics behind refusing to fund a large corporation such as Microsoft! The Java meeting also gave our video group Kodao Productions a lot of options to syndicate our videos online. Watch out for our website soon!

Initially, I was concerned that maybe the geeks would be ungrounded to the peoples struggles and thus alienate the broad masses that we video activists are reaching out to. I thought that this venue was created without seeing beyond the videographers, missing the point of bringing videos to the people who are offline. Putting our videos out there in cyberspace will not reach Aling Bebang, unless we provide her basic computer literacy.

My pessimism dissolved when the sessions got going. I understood that the meeting simply aims to arm us with tools we can use (for free!) to forward our causes. Interesting sessions include pirate radio, G8 info session, machinema and games.
Sometimes, it was between the sessions that I felt thrilled to be in TX-AP. Talking to other activists and camp staff was priceless. It was fun singing around a roaring fire with an ensemble of strings while the moon rose. I keep the memory of music from the jamming with Baba, Oomleo, Adel, Gega, and Sasha. On Thursday, we were able to take the afternoon off and swim at the icy Tanakita waterfalls. It was so cold that the existential bites your ass -- you are alive! So in that buzzed nirvana, on Saturday night, I did the salsa and bachata with Indrani and Natsumi, and blazed rocked the muddy dancefloor.

I especially enjoyed the film screenings from video activist groups from different regions the world. It was a good way to learn about the struggles in other locales, and to situate ourselves in the world wide movement for genuine change. Overall inspiring, the gathering of about 40+ people in West Java was a great space to cook up projects and revolutions. (BY RISA)

UN May Cancel UN Women's Radio Program

Derva Berkowitz speaking at the 60th Anniversary of the UN Commission on the Status of Women

This is an Appeal from Frieda Werden of WINGS Women's International News Gathering Service:
Word just arrived that the UN is poised to cancel the program "Women" produced by UN Radio's English service. There is no other program focused on women that I know of coming out of UN media. You can find it for streaming and downloading on the website

My letter said that the women's coverage of the UN for radio needs to be expanded. A tremendous amount is happening in the UN involving and affecting women, but nowadays campus media, community media, and women's media are all being denied press passes to cover press conferences and events put on by the UN.The woman on the left in front is Bissera Kostova, from former Yugoslavia, current producer of UN Radio "Women".Diane Bailey doing an interview for Book Talk she was a longtime producer of UN Radio's "Women".

We've never been able to get a substantial amount of serious coverage out of network media on women's issues. Who is going to cover the United Nations for us? Contact for your letters and emails of feedback and support:
Diane Bailey
Chief, English Language Unit
United Nations Radio
United Nations, Room S-850F
New York, NY 10017>>

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Community Media at WSIS Follow-up

Steve Buckley, of AMARC, the international organization of community radios, is attending meetings in Geneva representing community media at the World Summit on the Information Society follow-up. The final version of the community media interim report is available at:

Additional information on the Action Line C9 Media is available at:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Letter from the Rancagua Prison, Chile

Elena Varela, filmmaker and director of the documentary Newen Mapuche sent a letter to cultural authorities and supporters of the film industry in Chile. Due to the events that have led to her arrest and to the fact that to this moment there is no public statement released by Elena, we find it adequate to circulate this letter to the national and international community:

To: Paulina Urrutia, Carolina Leiva, René Inostroza, Arturo Barrios, Leonardo Ordoñez (CORFO).
Consejo de la Cultura -CNCA (National Audiovisual Arts Council) and CORFO (Audiovisual Fund).
Dear Sirs,
I'm writing from this cold and sinister jail, where there are no trees, flowers, poetry, music or songs. A place where concrete and barbed wire have taken over. It's hard for me to begin to tell what is happening to me.

Years ago, since I began to realize that there were beautiful things in nature and created by man, I fell in love with music, poetry and film. But there are not just these lovely things in life. There is also injustice, there are sad histories in our humanity. There's a sector in Chile that has suffered and been punished, there's truth in other worlds, there are memories that are forgotten.

Over the last 10 years I fought for artistic education, to generate spaces of cultural engagement and expression. I founded the art school "Escuela de Todas Las Artes", the film collective "Cine Ojo Film", the children's orchestra "Orquesta Sinfónica de Niños de Panguipulli" and the media production company "Productora de Cine Ojo Film". I created many works and educated many children, youth and adults. I was the Education Coordinator in charge of culture in the town of Pucón and took on many other cultural projects.

In my work I've sought out the stories of social and political groups that have suffered violations of their human rights, or any other form of political, cultural or social process. My camera has seen all kinds of social actors and characters, some persecuted before, and some now.

Because I am a documentarian, a filmmaker and artist. Having been awarded funds from the Consejo de la Cultura [Arts Council of Chile, CNCA] and the Fondo Nacional Audiovisual [National Audiovisual Fund], in democracy, I believed that this would allow me to show other worlds, and that I really had this support. But here I am, persecuted, accused and arrested of charges I did not commit. What I've really done is research memory, which is the reason behind the struggle of many social groups, and I've carried this out with the assistance of many other professionals of the film world through CORFO and CNCA funds.

I have researched the conflict of the Mapuche people with the lumber companies and the state for four years, and it's been difficult; on one hand, I've exposed and opened myself to their thoughts and beliefs, to be able to narrate from their viewpoints and reasoning, which I believe I've comprehended. And on the other hand, there is the immense repression that has been thrown upon their social actors. In the midst of this, I've collected historic material and I've made a narrative film script to produce the film in question: "NEWEN MAPUCHE".

This project has had many steps in its development: first it was supported by CORFO in 2005. Today the film's trailer is posted on the CORFO website. I have faith in my artistic capacity so I also applied for funding from the Fondo Audiovisual, and was
backed by various accomplished professionals, documentary filmmakers and directors, so I know that garnering this support was achieved with great effort and perseverance, and love, of course.

However, now all my footage- an accumulation of stories, testimonies and histories taped throughout these years- has been seized by the Investigations Police, and is at risk of loss, exposing the many people I interviewed who have told me their stories and expressed their viewpoints, testimonies, or stories in these reels. All written material from the character and historical research in progress, all shoots and scripts, have also been confiscated by the Investigations Police, who have put on a media circus, offending my work and all filmmakers who have worked or continue to collaborate with me, accusing me of being a terrorist, an assailant, an ex-MIR militant, in addition to multiple other charges that I am facing. Because of all this, I have serious doubts as to the way and use that will be made of my historical narratives, since they are already being used against me to entangle me in a story that they have been unable to resolve.

My arrest has been sinister, just like those perpetrated by the CNI [secret police] in the dictatorship years; I've been interrogated, my family has been threatened, there has been a media montage demeaning my work as a documentary filmmaker.

My work attests to my talent and strong determination towards what I do. In addition, my technical team was also arrested in the darkest of manners, our production company occupied and searched, suffering damage and loss of many items. I have been isolated, without the right to read or see news among many other rights suppressed. Among the detainees, one of the women also happened to be a cultural worker, the Director of Culture of the town of Ercilla, whom I met in 2005 in an Arts Management Course offered by CNCA.

In addition, my other film, "Los Sueños Del Comandante", a documentary made with support from CORFO in 2006, which tells the story of the lumber company Complejo Maderero Panguipulli, the peasants worker's movement, the Death Caravan and the
revolutionary MIR guerilla of the eighties. All this work, all these taped interviews, have suffered the same fate; they have been seized by the Investigations Police of Chile.

All my audiovisual material, tapes, interviews, artwork- such as banners, posters and other items- as well as written material such as scripts, diaries, books, archival interviews of ex-political militants, Mapuche and others, including political prisoners and leaders have been siezed by the Investigations Police of Chile.

Dear Sirs, I appeal for your intervention in the task of safeguarding this filmic material and the memory comprised in these works, the safeguarding of their social actors and my freedom, because I find myself deprived of all rights and expression.
I also urge you to intervene for my rights as a filmmaker and artist, and to allow me to move forward with this film. I request the legal action Habeas corpus for those who participate in this project, including myself and my daughter América, who has also been threatened along with me on several occasions.

Along with this, I request the safeguarding of the filmic material, the return of all the reels, tapes, images, film and sound equipment that were seized, the art materials that have been misused to diminish this beautiful project and my work as a documentary filmmaker, such as toy guns, costumes, flags, banners, Mapuche jewelery, megaphones, cellular phones, still cameras, photographs, writings, scripts, research notes, resume information, invoices, receipts for all our materials and expenses, which have all been seized and are involved in this project.

In the name of artistic freedom and creative expression, I request my freedom. In the name of human dignity and everything achieved by artists striving for a more just society, I request my freedom and justice for what we have endured.

Sincerely, Elena Varela López
Documentary filmmaker. Company: Puelche Comunicaciones
Contact Email:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Other Black Radio: Voices for Justice

The Other Black Radio: North Carolina Voices for Justice
by Bruce Dixon, Black Agenda Report
When, for the first time in decades, the FCC opened up a licensing window for new full-power FM community radio stations, mostly in rural areas around the country, the Pacifica Foundation, Prometheus Radio and several other outfits made a specific attempt to raise the number of African American owned and run community radio stations in the South. Out of their efforts, more than a hundred grassroots organizations, quite a few of them black, applied for new station licenses, especially in the South. This is not your daddy's black radio, or your momma's, or Radio One's discredited, conscienceless and commercial radio. This is the dawn of a new paradigm in black radio --- the other black radio.The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Radio Barn Raising in Greenville, South Carolina Young gives the background of black radio in North Carolina: "To learn more about the historical context for black radio in Monroe County, North Carolina, I *highly* recommend the book "Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams & the Roots of Black Power" by Timothy B. Tyson, published by the University of North Carolina Press. It's an excellent read; one of those books that's hard to put down once you crack it open.

If you've never heard of Robert F. Williams (his remarkable life story is pretty much absent from history books), you can read an overview here:

"The "Radio Free Dixie" book references several Pacifica Radio interviews in its footnotes. I couldn't find anything by searching for "Robert F. Williams" online at but a search for "Radio Free Dixie" produced a match for a 60 min reel recorded by Chris Koch in 1963. I'm not sure if the reel has been digitized.

"The Freedom Archives compiled an audio documentary on Robert F. Williams in collaboration with Mabel Williams, his widow and partner-in-struggle. The documentary is available for order here:

Follow the links!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Television Comunitaria en Venezuela

La Jornada:

■ La idea surgió en 2002, ante el “cerco mediático de la tv comercial”

Popular barrio de Caracas será sede de televisora comunitaria
■ La zona es conocida por la violencia y el narcotráfico

■ La antena se ubica en el cerro La Bombilla, por lo que la cobertura será amplia


Caracas, 12 de mayo. La Bombilla está cerca del cielo, pero algunas noches parece estarlo más del infierno. Peligroso, pero estratégicamente situado, este alto cerro de la populosa barriada de Petare, en el este de Caracas, es sede de la televisión comunitaria que será vista por un millón de personas.

“La televisión venezolana ha estado dominada por la derecha y grupos económicos, e inundada de antivalores. El presentador de noticias es blanco y el ladrón es negro. No es la Venezuela que nosotros conocemos”, explica Charles Méndez, antropólogo, y uno de los fundadores de TV Petare.

Conocido por ser un foco de tráfico de drogas, de violencia y pobreza, Petare, donde viven más de 500 mil personas, esconde “algo más que malas noticias”, según las decenas de vecinos que trabajan desde hace seis años para sacar adelante esta televisión, una de las tres cadenas comunitarias existentes en Caracas.

“TV Petare por una comunicación libre y plural”, se lee en el cartel que da la bienvenida a la precaria sede de la cadena, en un local reconstruido por voluntarios.

Desde finales de abril, la cadena emite una señal de prueba y difunde programación propia los fines de semana. El objetivo es llegar a cinco horas diarias de transmisión en pocas semanas: desde emisiones musicales hasta espacios dedicados a las necesidades del barrio.

“TV Petare nos hace sentir importantes. Vemos que nos pertenece y la gente se involucra”, señala Reina Tovar, que a sus más de 50 años debutará con un programa de asistencia social.

Políticos, pero no politiqueros

Un sencillo estudio, con varios ordenadores de segunda mano y un dispositivo técnico enviado por el gobierno, compone la sede de la cadena. Visto desde el tejado, Petare se extiende como una desordenada masa de ladrillos rojos que avanza amenazante hacia las zonas más acomodadas de Caracas.

Según sus fundadores, la idea de TV Petare comenzó a incubarse tras el golpe de Estado contra el presidente Hugo Chávez, en abril de 2002, al ver el “vacío de información” y el “cerco mediático que ejercía la televisión comercial”.

“Los periodistas que trabajen aquí deben ser personas comprometidas con su país y con el proceso de cambio. Somos un proyecto político, pero no politiquero. Aquí se podrá criticar a nuestros dirigentes, pero siempre dentro de la ley”, asegura Méndez.

“Como la antena está en lo más alto del cerro, la señal llegará a media Caracas, pero eso nos obliga a usarla bien, porque habrá muchos que quieran aprovecharse de la cadena”, advierte Tovar.

Los fundadores de la televisión, que no cobran ningún salario, han recibido cursos y donaciones de instituciones públicas y realizan talleres para formar futuros periodistas.

Monday, May 5, 2008

UNESCO on Community Media

The role of community media
Even though many media outlets have made provisions for audience participation and have therein become more accessible to the people they serve, nowhere is accessibility and specificity of purpose so well defined as with community media. Currently radio is the most widespread form of community media in the developing world because it is cheap to produce and to access, can cover large areas, and overcomes illiteracy.

Community Media, Media with a mission
Community radio defines itself more by its mission than its size or location. It usually evokes a grassroots attitude and a bias toward the free flow of opinions and ideas. It seeks to educate and entertain, to inform and amuse, and to create a big tent under which its listeners can engage and challenge each other as well as their political leadership. These operations tend to be smaller, community based and managed, with a reliance on local support that may include advertising but more often is reflected in donations and volunteerism. Community media will often fill the void left by larger corporate media entities that operate under different imperatives that may not include the underrepresented or marginalized populations in a society.

While not always the case, women and young people will find a home for their issues and encouragement of their participation within the community media framework. The inclusion of women remains a challenging development issue because they are habitually excluded from the decision-making processes within their own societies, whilst being the first point of contact on many health and educational issues. Similarly, more attention should be given to the inclusion of youth within the media and to developing their media literacy skills.
Over the long-term, local media can create a coherent narrative of a region’s development and help people formulate goals and plans for how to improve their situation. The media can help contextualize national development programs within community frameworks and bring these goals closer to their intended beneficiaries. Effective local media can also help people understand the history and evolution of oppression or discrimination and give them the necessary perspective to make rational choices to emerge from it. With this information, people have the means to participate in democratic processes and shape their own futures locally and nationally.

Making every citizen a “reporter”
Professional journalists are the core of a reputable media environment. However, they are by no means the only ones actively chronicling the world around them. New technology is giving an unprecedented opportunity to citizens to inform others. . In crises, citizens reporting like journalists may be the only way for human rights abuses and other violations of a criminal or environmental nature to be brought to face broad public scrutiny. Citizen reporting may also be a way to work against censorship, following protests or political turmoil. If information becomes decentralized, censorship becomes less effective because it is no longer containable within the media outlets.

The practicalities of participation
New technologies are not only changing the media dynamic when it comes to content, but are also a significant factor in creating new ways for media to interact with its audience. Blogs, mobile phones and various other online devices are bringing the producers of content in closer contact with the consumers of it. Feedback can be instantaneous. For the first time in the history of the media industry, especially in the most well developed media markets, there is as much information coming in from consumers as is going out to them through traditional and new means of communication. Managing these ebbs and flows of information is becoming increasingly critical to the future of the media business. The bonds are being strengthened between these entities and with this deeper connection come heightened expectations that the users will be listened to. Encouraging participation is therefore key to the survival of media outlets in a competitive market place, while also providing an opportunity to engage with audiences. From an audience perspective, it means that it can influence the content in a very proactive way and it enables individuals to access a ready made platform through which they can share their opinions.